§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
, in moving the second reading of the Agricultural Statistics Bill, said, he thought it was unnecessary to point out the importance of obtaining general statistics upon the subjects of agriculture, in order to arrive at a knowledge of the progress of the country; nor need he dwell upon the benefits derivable by the community at large from having it in their power to determine upon something like secure and certain grounds as to the results of each year's harvest. No class, however, in his belief would be so much benefited by the publication of agricultural statistics as the farmers themselves. If it was important to the dealers in cotton and wool, and other commodities, to be possessed of the knowledge of the quantities of such articles which already existed, or which were likely to be introduced into the market, and available for the consumption of the ensuing year, it must be equally so to the agriculturist, who, if he possessed such information, would know whether it was prudent to sell, or buy, in proportion as he was informed of the probable supply which would be forthcoming. The cotton manufacturer takes the greatest pains to procure accurate returns of the produce of the cotton crops in each year, and the information so obtained regulates his proceedings in his purchases and his sales. It must be obvious, indeed, that to every one who has to buy or sell, the information of the quantity and quality of the article in which he deals which is likely to come into the market in the ensuing year must be a matter of the greatest importance. To a certain extent this information is attempted to be obtained, though inaccurately, by the great corn dealers; and it is hoped, if these statistics are procured, this information will be obtained with accuracy, and published to the world, so as to put the farmer on an equality with the corn dealer, and not leave him the 2208 victim of his ignorance. He would read the observations of Mr. Hoskyns, a most intelligent gentleman, which appeared in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society. That gentleman, who thoroughly understood the question, wrote—It is not quite ten years ago since a circumstance occurred in the corn trade of this country calculated to awaken even the most unobservant to this question. No Mark Lane prophet had foretold it; nor can it be said that any of that more abundant mental element in all communities, the faculty of after-wisdom, essayed to turn it to much account. Yet if such an event had happened in the iron trade, or in the cotton market of Liverpool or Manchester, we will hazard the assertion that it would not have been suffered to pass by as a mere phenomenon of the year, without being improved to future use. It was this:—During the six weeks immediately following the harvest of the year 1846, from the middle of August to the end of September, the average price of wheat was 48s. 2d., the lowest point touched being 45s. 1d. After some improvement in the following month, it fell again by the end of November to 50s.; by which time most of that large, but we hope not increasing class who thresh out this year's corn to pay last half-year's rent, that class whom the Mark Lane phraseology cruelly distinguished as 'needy sellers, the same class (for so unhappily it ever is) who 'cannot see what good agricultural statistics are to do,' had turned their little stock into cash and the cash over to their landlords. The year had no sooner died out than the symptoms of a scarcity began to manifest themselves, which in the course of six months brought the price of wheat, the produce of that same harvest (and in spite of an importation of upward of 4,500,000 quarters of wheat alone), to the extraordinary price of 102s. 5d. per quarter. Here was a prominent and melancholy instance of that law so quaintly expressed in the adage that tells us 'the weakest go to the wall.' Taking the actual value of the whole wheat crop of that year as fairly, at any rate approximately, indicated in the sum of the weekly average of the Gazette from harvest to harvest, the small farmer who came early into market with his crop lost about 27s. on every quarter of wheat sold—a sum which at the rate of four quarters to the acre, exceeded the whole cost of the fallow. Supposing his oddmark of wheat about twenty acres, his rent about £200 a year, he sacrificed the full amount of the half-year's rent he was selling to meet. This is paying at a deal-rate for the enjoyment of that kind of gambling which subsists solely upon ignorance, but which would, like a bet, lose even the element of fairness, would be not even justifiable, if certain existing facts were known which might be known, and which it is to be hoped soon will be known, equally to rich and poor, equally to the large and small farmer. It is to the latter—the man who cannot wait the turns of the market—that the statistical estimate of the coming prices of the year, based not upon guesswork, but upon the ascertained facts of the harvest, would be most pre-eminently serviceable. The loss even of a few shillings a quarter, when examined and duly multiplied, is a far more serious loss than meets the eve.2209 These remarks were so just, so true, and go conclusive of the advantage and importance of this kind of information, that he hoped we should hear no more of the injury done to the farmer by the intervention of a Bill like the present. Now, if it be desirable to have this information, it is of course requisite that it should be accurate. Hitherto, the most trustworthy authority we have possessed on agricultural statistics, is M'Culloch's Commercial Dictionary, whose estimates, in the absence of all authentic information, must necessarily have been very imperfect. Of late years neither in Ireland nor in Scotland had they been left altogether to conjecture, and therefore they were in a position to submit Mr. M'Culloch's estimates to the test of experience. In Ireland, ever since the year 1847, they had been assisted by the statistics collected by the constabulary; while as regarded Scotland, the Highland Society had collected a great deal of valuable information. Well, comparing the researches of the Highland Society with Mr. M'Culloch's estimate for Scotland, both as regarded the crop and stock, the result told greatly against the reliableness of Mr. M'Culloch's conclusions. The following tabular statement would show how wide apart were the two calculations—
|AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS (SCOTLAKD).|
|Ascertained Results from|
|Mr. M'Culloch's Estimate.||Reports of Scotch Returns.|
|Sheep and Lambs||3,500,000||4,936,667||5,844,332|
|Mr. M'Culloch's Return.||From Returns of Constabulary.|
§ Produce of wheat in Norfolk, according to Sir J. Walsham's estimate:—
|Ditto in Scotland||4,848,499|
|Excess of Norfolk over all Scotland||1,291,373|
§ Acreage of wheats: Norfolk, 202,971; Scotland,168,216; Suffolk, 138,277.
§ Therefore, the information, so far as Ireland and Scotland were concerned, was so far satisfactory. Was it, then, to be said that England should alone remain without an effort to obtain knowledge which had been so readily obtained in other countries? Was the English farmer so far behind the farmer of Scotland or Ireland that he could not be persuaded to seek the advantages to be derived from these valuable statistics? Was this country to be almost the only place in the civilised world in which such information could not be obtained? In France, in Belgium, in Holland,—nay, even in Russia itself, there were established systems by which agricultural statistics were annually obtained. The Highland Society some years ago had made great efforts to procure such information in Scotland. In England, in 1852, similar efforts were made in some of the agricultural counties to procure this information. The machinery then put in motion for the purpose was the Poor Law Board. That Board seemed admirably well calculated to effect this object, by reason of its central establishment, presided over by a gentleman who was a responsible Minister in the other House of Parliament, efficient and intelligent inspectors all over the country, active clerks 2211 in each union, and guardians who were themselves farmers, and who could therefore check the returns by their own personal knowledge, and who could assist the Government very materially in their efforts to obtain this information. Well, that machinery was in the first instance put in operation in two agricultural counties—namely, Norfolk and Hampshire. As far as regarded the county of Norfolk the result was most satisfactory; but as regarded Hampshire, he admitted that it was not quite so satisfactory, in consequence of an indisposition on the part of the farmers to give the required information. It seemed that an impression prevailed amongst the people there that it was an inquisitorial attempt of the Government to obtain such information, for the purpose of using it as an instrument for additional taxation, or for the purpose of enabling the landlords to obtain a knowledge of the private affairs of their tenantry, in order to afford them a pretext for increasing their rent. Now, no person of sound sense could for a moment think that any information obtained by the Government by such means would be likely to lead to any such result; and as to the landlord raising his rents, the landlord who did not now possess a correct knowledge of the state of cultivation and amount of stock upon his farms must either be very ignorant himself or very ill served by his steward. In the following year, 1853, an attempt upon a larger scale was made by the Government to obtain this information, and returns were obtained from eleven counties. Although it was partially successful, it was certainly not as satisfactory in its results as it had previously been in Scoland and Ireland. In the gross amount the failures were about 7 per cent. The whole amount of the failures, however, in Norfolk, under the plan of Sir John Walsham was only 2¾ per cent, and in that valuation were included three unions in which there were refusals to give any information whatever. The reports of the Poor Law Inspectors deserved their Lordships' attention. Every inspector, with scarcely an exception, expressed an opinion in favour of the adequacy of the Poor Law machinery for the obtaining of this information; but they all concurred in saying that it would be utterly useless to attempt to obtain agricultural statistics without subjecting parties to penalties who refused to fill up the schedules left with them. Evidence to the same effect was given before the Select Committee of their 2212 Lordships to whom the matter was referred in 1855, and that evidence induced the Committee to recommend that compulsory powers should be obtained. The principle upon which compulsory power would be employed was the same as that which was employed in the Census Act, and which proved completely successful in procuring the information that was sought for under that enactment. It was believed that the existence of those powers would be quite sufficient to prevent the necessity of putting them in force. No one would refuse to do that which he was required to do by law. Indeed, many of those who now refused to give returns did so because their neighbours refused, and not because they themselves had any objection, and urged upon the Committee the advantage that would be derived from compulsory powers. If a law were passed making it compulsory, he felt the strongest expectation the information would be obtained without difficulty, without grumbling, and without enforcing any penalty. The Committee to which he had referred, which, he might observe, was composed of almost all the most eminent friends of agriculture, without distinction of politics, unanimously concurred in recommending that the Board of Trade should be entrusted with the general superintendence of the collection of these statistics through the medium of the Poor Law machinery; that compulsory powers should be given; that two classes of returns should be annually obtained, the first containing facts, and the second estimates; and that the facts should consist of returns of live stock and of the acreage under each description of crop, while the estimates should consist of estimates of the produce of the harvest. They also recommended that the inquiries should not extend below holdings of two acres, and that it was desirable the Government should introduce a Bill as early as possible to carry their recommendations into effect. These being the grounds upon which he asked their Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill, he would shortly state its provisions. The provisions were:—In the month of February in each year the overseer of the poor was to send in to the Poor Law Board a return of every occupier of land in the particular parish or district, with the nature of the occupation, &c. In May the schedules should be issued to such owners and occupiers, who should fill them up and return them on the 1st of June, with 2213 all the information required. The schedule would contain various columns, headed "Extent of acreage," and the names of the various descriptions of crop, as well as those of live stock. Those schedules, being so issued, should be returned to the Poor Law Board, and from thence to the Board of Trade, in order to their being arranged according to the respective counties. For the purpose of securing those returns, it was further proposed to confer a compulsory power upon the parties engaged in this operation, by which any person declining to fill up the schedule might be summoned before a justice of the peace; and the magistrate, on being satisfied that there was a refusal to give this information, would have power to inflict a penalty upon the accused party, and to appoint a person to enter upon the premises of the recusant and make a valuation of the stock and produce of the farm. There were two classes of penalties proposed. The one was not to exceed £5, and the other not to exceed 40s. The larger penalty would be applicable to overseers or other public officers who neglected to perform the duties required of them under this Bill, and the smaller one to such parties as had refused to fill up the schedules. Those penalties would be levied by the magistrates, and would be paid on account of the poor rate to the benefit of the particular parish in which the offence was committed. With regard to an estimate, it had not been deemed advisable to make that compulsory, but it would be left to the officers of the Poor Law Board to frame an estimate of the amount of the produce of each farm in such a way as they might deem most expedient. The Government by this Bill did not propose that every farmer should send a return of the produce of his land in June; but only a return of the acreage and of the various descriptions of crop with which it was sown. With regard to the estimate which would he framed after the harvest, that would be obtained by carefully testing the quality of the crops in each district, and then striking an average, which would be a fair criterion of the produce of the whole country, which, however, could not be expected before the month of November. These, however, were matters for subsequent arrangement, and considerable latitude had purposely been left in this Bill in order that any alterations might be adopted which experience might recommend. In 2214 employing the machinery of the Poor Law Board it was not intended that the Board in London should call upon its various agents in the country to perform those new duties if it should be objected to by them. The Board might employ the clerks of the unions, the overseers, relieving officers, and guardians of the poor, if it thought fit, but if there should be any reluctance on the part of those local functionaries to undertake the duties, the Board would have power to employ any persons whom it might consider qualified for the task.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
By a vote of Parliament. In the 12th clause of the Bill there was a provision for the allowance of expenses, and any expenditure which might occur would be defrayed from a sum to be voted by Parliament. Having stated the chief provisions of the Bill and the reasons for its introduction, he now asked their Lordships to assent to the second reading, believing, as he did, that the object sought to be attained was of great importance to the country at large, and that it would confer great benefits upon all classes of the community—especially upon the farmers and agriculturists of Great Britain.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
said, he trusted that some means for procuring the information upon a subject of such great importance could be devised other than those contained in the provisions of this Bill; for he could not but regard the compulsory power given by the measure as it stood as other than arbitrary and inquisitorial. In his opinion the Bill would go far to annihilate that independence of character and position which every one wished to see Englishmen enjoy. As a landlord wishing well to his tenants, he should regret were such a measure to become the law of the land. He did not think that the adoption of compulsory means to obtain information was always the best. In the present case it would be extremely objectionable, inasmuch as it would be an inquiry into every man's private affairs and interests. He believed that such power would be viewed with the greates 2215 jealousy throughout the country. In one year the crops might be very large, and represent a very considerable capital; and in another year the very reverse might be the case. Now, the Bill was neither more nor less than a measure calling upon each farmer to make a full disclosure of his private affairs. If a general return were moved for of the quantity of corn produced and of cattle bred in a particular year, he thought that they might arrive at the information they desired. They would, in such a case, be enabled to calculate pretty accurately the average produce of the year and the amount of cattle in the country. He hoped, if the Bill be read a second time, that some period would be given after the Easter recess before they proceeded to another stage of the measure, in order that the agricultural interest might have a full opportunity of considering its bearings. As yet no such opportunity had been given them, for the Bill was only placed in their hands on Saturday morning, and they were now called upon to assent to its second reading. He could not help thinking that it was too important a measure to press forward with such haste. He confessed he had great doubts of its answering the sanguine expectations entertained by the noble Lord. He could not but think that the Bill, if carried, would tend to lower the position which the English farmer had hitherto occupied. If an ordinary return were moved for, he did not believe that any farmer would hesitate to supply the information asked for. He objected wholly to the compulsory part of the proceedings under the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, if I shared, in any degree, the apprehensions of the noble Viscount who has just addressed you, I should feel it my duty, not only to offer my objections to the Bill, but to resist the second reading of it; inasmuch as it appears to me that the objections he has urged went to the whole principle of the measure, and not merely to its machinery. I fear that the observations made I by my noble Friend will rather tend to increase that feeling of jealousy with which he expects the powers of this Bill will be viewed by some classes, and which it ought to be our object as much as possible to allay. I have been for a long time satisfied of the great importance—and to the farmers more especially—of obtaining as far as possible accurate statistical information as to our agricultural produce; and I may mention this fact in corroboration 2216 of that statement, that in a few days after I had the honour of taking office in 1852 I wrote a letter to my noble Friend the Duke of Richmond, urging upon him, at considerable length, the importance of obtaining accurate agricultural statistics in the counties with which he was connected, and pressing upon him to use all the great influence which he deservedly possesses with the various agricultural societies throughout the kingdom, in order to obtain their concurrence in this proceeding, so that by their intervention they might induce the farmers to supply that information voluntarily; and I promised the noble Duke that the assistance of Government in effecting this object would be given in every way possible. It is not, therefore, now for the first time that I have expressed this opinion; nor solely from having read the Report of the Committee of last year upon this subject, and of that of the Committee of 1854, that I have come to the conclusion that to obtain accurate agricultural statistics is a matter of extreme importance to the country generally, and to no class of greater importance than to the practical agriculturists themselves. I must confess, however, that I have come to the conclusion, from reading the evidence before last year's Committee, that if you are to obtain this information in England you must obtain it by means of a compulsory measure. I further and entirely concur in the opinion expressed by the witnesses examined before each Committee, that if you desire to obtain full and accurate information the farmers themselves would rather give it in obedience to a law which all persons will be equally bound to obey, than give it under circumstances which made it optional for each individual to supply such information, and which left the farmers uncertain as to whether the same information would be also given by others of their class. It is manifest that if the information be not given generally the result will be fallacious. I am convinced, then, that it is in the first instance of great importance to obtain accurate agricultural statistics, and in the next that to obtain such information with the least amount of dissatisfaction from the farmers, some compulsory power must be resorted to. My noble Friend behind me has spoken of the degradation which would be inflicted upon the farmers by sending parties into their houses requiring them to make returns of their live stock and produce. Now, I confess, my Lords, I see no degradation what- 2217 ever inflicted on any farmer or occupier of land in requiring him to make a return of that which it is obvious may be ascertained by any of his neighbours by the slightest inspection, or which the landlord has the opportunity of making either by himself or by his steward; or which may he obtained without the landlord seeing the land at all, by his simply knowing what rotation of crops had been prescribed by the lease for the land in question. And certainly, my Lords, my opinion is, that of the two modes of obtaining this information—namely, whether the statement is to be, made for the farmer or by him—that it must be the most satisfactory to him, if a statement is to be made at all, it should be made by himself. Then, my Lords, what force is there in the objection that the farmer will be required to make an exposure of his private affairs? What is it I that the farmer will be called upon to state? He will not be called upon, as my noble Friend has stated, to disclose any of his private affairs. He is only called upon to state that he holds a certain number of acres, and he is then to say how much of his land is laid down in wheat, how much in barley, how much in oats, and so on with other descriptions of produce. And while I am on this subject I wish to throw it out for consideration of the Government whether the columns of their proposed schedule are not unnecessarily increased, and whether it would not he advisable to reduce the numbers. I think for all practical purposes, for example, all grain crops might be included in one column; turnips, mangel-wurzel, and all similar roots might be included in another column for green crops; and vetches, clover, &c., might be classified under a third column. I am disposed to think that so many columns as the schedule now contains are useless for any practical purpose, and are calculated rather to confuse the farmer's mind, and to induce a disinclination to fill them up. My noble Friend seemed to think, when supposing a case, that in one year a farmer might have a very large amount of produce, while in the following year it might be very small; that under this Bill he would have to make a disclosure that would be injurious to his interests—especially in the matter of stock. But such an objection may be easily answered by reminding my noble Friend that there are very few farmers who, in a succession of years, have the same amount of stock. I as well as others of your Lordships, have very 2218 large parks, and we are in the habit of taking a quantity of what is called lay cattle to feed upon the pasture. Well, in making a return under this Bill, we shall return all those cattle found grazing in our parks in June; but that would not show that all such cattle are our own. There may be only five head of cattle my own, and yet I shall return fifty head, in case I shall find that number in my park at the time I am making my return; while, on the other hand, the farmer will make only a return of twenty or twenty-five head of cattle, when in point of fact he may have fifty or sixty head grazing on my pasture. With regard, then, to the return which the farmer will be called upon to make, I cannot conceive that it will in the slightest degree expose his private and domestic circumstances, or that it will occasion any ground for jealousy on his part. I do not doubt but that the measure, in the first instance, will be regarded with some suspicion; but it will be the duty and the object of us in our respective districts to endeavour to allay such a feeling by reason, rather than to excite it by the expression of fear. I think that the Government had better consider in what manner they shall best allay this feeling of jealousy on the part of the farmer. It is obvious that in order to do this the provisions of the measure must be carried out in a way the least unsatisfactory and displeasing to the farmer. Now, looking at the measure in this point of view, I cannot say I think that the machinery of the Poor Law Board is the most desirable. In the first place, you will be throwing upon that Board a business they are not all acquainted with, and one which does not properly belong to their functions. In the next place, I do not think that the machinery of the guardians under the Poor Law Board is the most popular or satisfactory process for collecting statistics of this nature. I should venture to suggest to the Government another mode of proceeding, which I think would prove much more satisfactory. I would ask your Lordships whether this information may not be much more advantageously and unobjectionably obtained through the medium of the petty sessions. If the returns are furnished from the Board of Trade to the quarter sessions, to be sent then to the magistrates in petty sessions, who in their several districts would possess much more complete control over the overseers, the information might be obtained from the farmers more easily and with less 2219 dissatisfaction than it could be obtained through the medium of the Poor Law Board; and I think, moreover, that by adopting this mode the magistrates themselves would be more likely to give their individual assistance in procuring the information, inasmuch as they would feel personally interested in collecting the returns. Referring, again, to the apprehension that these statistical returns may unnecessarily expose the private circumstances of individuals, I beg to point out why I think any such fear to be wholly unfounded. It is not at all necessary that the return of each individual should go beyond the petty sessions. The petty sessions having ascertained that all the returns have been sent in, it will be perfectly competent in the magistrates there to sum up, without the names of the parties, the totals of the several accounts, ascertaining the number of acres under cultivation, with the amount of the estimated produce. Then they can return the abstract so made up to the magistrates at quarter sessions or to the Board of Trade, who will in such case be, able to make up a summary of the information it was desirable to obtain. With regard to stock, it does not matter whether the number of sheep be greater in Scotland or Ireland than in England. The great I question to be ascertained is the amount of meat there is for the consumption of the country at large. So in regard to crops, we do not want to know how much of a particular crop is grown in Lancashire, in Norfolk, or in Hampshire, but what is the whole amount that is available for consumption. As the first step towards ascertaining this fact, we must, of course, know the exact breadth of land sown. I wish, therefore, to see such a measure framed as will obtain for us this information, and at the same time will remove every objection from the farmers in respect to it. To do this we must remove the prejudice that now prevails in the mind of the farmer, by convincing him that in seeking this information we are really desirous of promoting his own interest, and that it will be advantageous rather than injurious to him. So firmly am I persuaded that such will be the result of these statistical returns, that my best influence shall be exerted to do away with the feeling that at j present prevails among the farmers as to what is the intention of your Lordships in requiring this information. I am certain the farmers fancy that it is some project on the part of the Government with a view to 2220 increase taxation, or at least a scheme on the part of their landlords for the purpose of raising the amount of their rents. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to dissipate these misapprehensions by calm reasoning and every means of persuasion, and therefore I am desirous that the measures of the Government should be so framed as to afford the least possible ground for men cherishing these unfounded apprehensions, and that those measures should be such as will in a few years dispel all those prejudices that now influence the mind of the farmer on this subject. I do not see any exact provision laid down with regard to the estimate to be made as to the probable value of the yield of the harvest. I think Her Majesty's Government will agree with me that the amount of the estimated value of the crops is hardly a matter for the consideration of the Poor Law Board. They are not the persons best qualified to obtain the information. I think it will be infinitely better to leave the matter to the magistrates at petty sessions to determine upon, who in obtaining this estimate from the farmers themselves will be better able to work out this fact than any officers under the Poor Law Board. My Lords, after what I have said, I shall of course offer no opposition to the second reading of this Bill; on the contrary, I think the object it has in view is one highly advantageous to the agricultural interest of this country. It is necessary that returns should be obtained uniformly, and, if uniformly, then it must be compulsory; and if I express some hesitation as to the machinery for carrying out the object of the Bill, I think that that is a matter that may be better considered at another time. I trust, however, that the Government will permit the agriculturists themselves to have a full opportunity of considering the Bill before they proceed to its final stage; for by doing so, they will not only be promoting agriculture themselves, but will be giving to the country gentlemen an opportunity of informing themselves on the subject, which, when once thoroughly understood by them, though now supposed to be an unpopular measure, will, I am convinced, receive their cordial support.
wished to remind the noble Lord that these returns would press more hardly on some districts than on others, especially on those where the farmers were chiefly employed in breeding flocks and keeping dairy farms.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
said, that, as a 2221 Member of the Select Committee which had sat to inquire into this subject—a Committee formed from among their Lordships in the most impartial manner—he felt himself bound to support the principle of this Bill. There was no difference of opinion in the Committee as to the importance of ascertaining the quantity of stock throughout the country, as well as an estimate of what the extent of land under cultivation would produce; and he did not see how the powers which were necessary to procure such information as this could be regarded as inquisitorial. He was therefore, quite prepared to support the principle of this Bill, the compulsory portion of which had reference only to returns I of the quantity of land under cultivation. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) thought it would be more desirable to procure the required information through the quarter and petty sessions than, as suggested in the Bill, by means of the Poor Law Commissioners and the boards of guardians. That point came under the consideration of the Committee, but they had arrived almost unanimously at the conclusion that the machinery of the Poor Law Commissioners would be more likely than any other to carry out this scheme effectively. When the noble Earl said that by intrusting the collection of these statistics to the petty sessions you would interest the country magistrates in the success of the measure, and have the advantage of their co-operation and influence, it must be remembered that—at least this was the case in the part of the country with which he was connected—the magistrates were very often members of the boards of guardians; so that this advantage would still be experienced under the present scheme. He would reserve his remarks upon the details I of the Bill until it came, to be considered in Committee, but he could not help now expressing his general approbation of the measure.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
expressed the great satisfaction with which he had heard the general concurrence of their Lordships in the principle of this Bill. To enable it to be carried out successfully, it must receive the hearty support and co-operation of those on whom the farmers relied, and he was, therefore, glad to perceive in that House a general approval of the measure and desire that it should work well. There was only a division of opinion as to whether the Poor Law Commissioners or the magistrates in petty 2222 sessions formed the best medium for carrying out the measure;—he himself inclined to the former. In Scotland the Highland Society took this matter up, and by their co-operation valuable statistics were collected throughout the country, the farmers feeling that the information they afforded was given to a friendly body, and that no improper advantage would be taken of it. In England, however, the Government had found it impossible to avail themselves of a similar machinery, for, on communicating with the Royal Agricultural Association, it appeared there was a standing rule which forbade that Association to interfere in any way with politics, and the council considered this question to have a political bearing. With regard to whether the returns should be collected through the Poor Law Board or the petty sessions, he certainly thought it a, recommendation of the machinery now proposed that it had been already tried with partial success, and that it had been recommended by the Committee of their Lordships' House. It was only in cases where the boards of guardians and poor law officers were willing to give their assistance that their services were to be made use of; should they be indisposed to render assistance, other machinery was to be made available, and other persons were to be employed. These, however, were points for consideration in Committee. He did not wish to press the measure forward with any undue haste; their Lordships would have ample time to consider its details during the recess; but at the same time ho trusted they would agree with him in thinking it desirable that the Bill should pass into a law as soon as possible, so that information might be procured on this subject even in the present year.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
I am quite sure that this Bill will be unpopular to the last degree, and that its working will be altogether impeded by the resistance of those who will be required to sign the schedules unless they are absolutely certain that there will be complete secrecy as to the returns. It is absolutely necessary that these returns should not he seen by the board of guardians or by the petty sessions, and that they should be sent directly up to London. This is a Bill of the political economists. I do not say it is a bad Bill; on the contrary, the information which it seeks to obtain is of the greatest importance; but it will be considered by the farmers as a landlord's 2223 Bill—a measure to obtain for the landlord information which will enable him to see into the circumstances of each individual farmer, and to raise his rent, if necessary. That will be the character of the Bill, and you will only lead the farmers to think otherwise by providing absolutely for secrecy. I confess, too, from what little I know of the farmers as a body, I am afraid there will be another difficulty, and that they will fail altogether in making these returns. They will be so bothered by having every year to fill up these schedules under different heads that I feel confident they will fail to do so, and will be exposed to the penalties in that ease provided, not at all from a desire to resist, the law, but from sheer inability to comply with it. I should recommend, therefore, that there be two schedules—one relating to the cultivation of the arable land, and another to the stock. It must be recollected that, generally speaking, farmers write remarkably badly indeed. I question if the best farmer I ever knew could do much more than write his own name, and I believe that on that account much practical difficulty will be experienced. I believe that if you afford the farmers ample time for writing and for correction, and, at the same time insure them secrecy, these returns may be made in something like a satisfactory manner; but, if not, the unpopularity of the measure will entirely impede its satisfactory operation.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
said, that he also had no doubt that the Bill would be most unpopular with the farmers; but the information required was now more necessary than ever. Ever since the repeal of the Corn Laws he had invariably urged the necessity of agricultural statistics, as being of more importance now than before the withdrawal of protection. The farmers were of opinion that by means of returns large profits in corn would be at once published to the world; but the average was always as well known abroad as at home. This country was now the refuge for the destitute. Every other country had a Corn Law, and as England was without, it was certain that, whenever high prices were offered for grain, the country would be flooded by corn. The only protection for the farmer would be to have a distinct and accurate statement, so as to enable him to judge exactly of his own position. The only question was as to the best mode of proceeding. He agreed in the opinion 2224 that the least popular medium would be the boards of guardians, as farmers would be more jealous of letting their affairs being known to such bodies than to the Government of the country. The magistrates were the gentry of the country, and if on the receipt of the papers the compilation was made and sent to the Board of Trade, and the papers destroyed, he thought the machinery would work easily; but care should be taken to avoid giving the names of individuals. There was hardly a poor law inspector in the country who did not bear testimony to the unpopular character of boards of guardians for such purposes as were contemplated by this Bill. Without entering into the details of the measure, he would simply urge that the returns should be made through the medium of the magistrates of petty sessions, and not of boards of guardians. That course he believed would be both cheaper and better. He trusted that after the recess, and when the public had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the Bill, it might be so framed as to meet the wishes of the agricultural body.
§ On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday the 4th of April next.